Friday, October 25, 2013

"Towards Disappearing" A Painting by Sam Francis, 1957, Los Angeles County Museum of Art

 I really love this painting!  I’ve never seen it before, and figured it was by Helen Frankenthaler.  The wash that was under the opaque brushwork looked like stains seeping out from the heavier paint.  I only associate that effect with Frankenthaler, but all that open space…the brushwork relative to the size of the painting was underscaled, but the composition—its critical groupings of shapes, brushwork, and spatters was so unusual! 


What does it take for a painting to strike you as weird? “Towards Disappearing” by Sam Francis is very pleasing in its sparseness, but perhaps the placement of its parts is not entirely precise—everything is roughed in by the transparent blue wash, then brushed over with heavier paint; but the unusual balance, particularly from top to bottom wins. 

The blobs on either edge of the canvas are perhaps too obvious in stretching the image to its full margin, but I refuse to belabor this point because of the sweetness of the main body. 
I find it easy to simply report the basics:  to look at the technique and process, believing that this tells about the painting.  "Towards Disappearing" illustrates the concept of a work being greater than the sum of its parts. 

This painting is more than the brushstrokes and qualities of the material.  It is more than Francis’ colors--they seem to be swallowed up by white canvas and then appear upon closer inspection; it is more than the many fine spatters of thrown liquid paint.  Technique doesn’t define this curious imagery.
The museum notes mention the artist’s travels to Paris and his encounter with Japanese art, and point out the simplicity of expression, the asymmetrical division of the space, the calligraphic quality of the brushwork and identity of the image.  This begins to open a door onto the work, but it is a genuinely weird painting. 

In Francis' painting the asymmetry, paint handling, the liquidity of the paint are its subject.  Its wash, drips/runs and fine splatters speak so to liquid characteristics—no impasto or thick film, no structure. 

And it doesn’t look like water lilies, birds, or anything--It's just a painting, not a painting of something.  Success!

For more on Sam Francis: